Americans have a soft spot for majestic, exotic animals—especially a desire to see them at healthy numbers in the wild. Due to the the proliferation of zoological societies and wildlife refuge centers in our country, we are able to educate ourselves about and witness magnificent creatures like giraffes, lions, tigers, rhinos, water buffalo, and other species close up but from a distance. Outlets like National Geographic and BBC America gives us a glimpse into these creatures through their storytelling and vivid imagery found in their articles and shows, respectively. It’s important to remember that these are wild creatures, not cuddly animals. They have the ability to enact great harm, and even death, upon humans. There are major risks entailed in coming into close contact with them. Nevertheless, factoring in caution and common sense, we can care about their well-being without being tree huggers or rabid animal rights activists.
You may recall the last male Northern rhino passed away back in March. Just this week, Phillip Bronkhorst of South Africa —who owns and operates Phillip Bronkhorst Safaris—posted a video of a rhino on his private farm that was poached and killed. The video has since garnered close to 200,000 views. Throughout the continent of Africa, rhinos and other big game species are illegally poached for their horns. Why? Local myth implies rhino horns are an aphrodisiac – the key to eternal male virility. Bizarre, right? Other species are similarly poached for their particular assets and supposed wealth entailed in these objects, like tiger or lion paws.
Who are these poachers and what is their driving force? Many of these individuals are local to African villages or towns, they could be relatives of Rangers too—driven to get out of poverty by drastic, unethical means. What is important to note is that poachers should not be conflated with law-abiding hunters. That would be a grave mistake.
A healthy alternative is being a steward of animal welfare—like EDGE (Eco Defense Group) is doing. Their services include tactical and canine support; wildlife conservation forensics programs; and community development. EDGE approaches conservation through research, technology, education, and safety. The group hopes to tackle poaching through innovative means. They bring in professionals from across different fields —namely the US Army Research, Woods Hole Research Institute, International business, special ops and entertainment—and across the globe. Their website doesn’t reveal [organization bios](A healthy alternative is being a steward of animal welfare—like EDGE (Eco Defense Group%29 is. ) “due to the unique nature and security concerns of some of our work.” They work with and endorse the work of Special Rangers in Kruger National Park in South Africa, for example, to aggressively combat poaching there:
Kruger National Park, at over two million hectares — roughly the size of Israel — is one of the largest and most diverse parks in the world, and it is the epicenter for counter poaching. On morning drives we are charged by bull elephant and attacked by baboons. We watch leopard walk up to our car and rhino and kudu and giraffe pass by. It is truly a kind of paradise, unique the world, unique among even other Africa preserves.
The park is maintained and controlled by Rangers, under direction of expert Regional Ranger Don English. Section Rangers control various parts of the park; under the Section Rangers, Field Rangers work in the bush for up to five nights at a time, tracking and ambushing the poachers that cross the borders.
And poachers cross daily. Kruger is losing Rhino at a rate of approximately 1.5 animals per day, with other species like elephant, pangolin and lion under attack as well. Since the market explosion almost a decade ago, the Rangers in the park have been fighting a war, and it is a war in which they struggle constantly to gain the upper hand.
Which is why 28-year veteran Ranger and Head of Special Operations Bruce Leslie has handpicked twenty top Field Rangers for a unique team of Special Rangers. They call themselves “The Lions.”
These Special Rangers represent a new evolution in the anti-poaching war. They are the tip of the spear in the fight, and their training, technology and tactics have made them a razor sharp instrument in an intelligent and evolutionary approach.